How did our religious leaders sink so low?

Saturday April 17 2010

In the mainstream Christian churches’ apparently immovable positions on the proposed Constitution, what has been ignored is not just the more contentious and ideological issues around choice — women’s rights to determine whether, when, how and in what conditions they have sex and reproduce — but also, more alarmingly, the facts about termination of pregnancies in Kenya.

These are the large number of unsafe abortions contracted; the disproportionate number of unsafe abortions contracted by impoverished women; the fact that unsafe abortions are the leading cause of maternal mortality; and, most importantly, the fact that there is no evidence that criminalising the termination of pregnancies has led, anywhere in the world, to drops in these statistics.

No. Evidence and facts do not, apparently matter. The logic is rigid and simplistic: Abortion is murder. It must be stopped. And the best way to stop it is by criminalising it.

One must question that logic. Bear in mind that we live in a country where sexual violence is rampant — within the family, by those in positions of power and responsibility.

Bear in mind too that we live in a country that refuses to accept the existence of marital rape. And finally, bear in mind that we live in a country where transactional sex is rampant; and not with commercial sex workers alone — remember the stories of women exchanging sex for food from humanitarian workers, security men and from the provincial administration.

Bear also in mind that we live in a country where pregnancy outside of wedlock is still stigmatised — most notably, by the very evangelical and mainstream Christian churches now up in arms at the thought of all those unborn children supposedly being sacrificed at the altar of women’s immorality and selfishness.


Bear in mind that we live in a country where both the women and the men involved do not yet bear equal consequences and responsibility for reproduction — recall here how recently it has been that pregnant schoolgirls have stopped being forced to leave school.

The sobering reality is that stopping abortion would entail action on all of these fronts. Providing information. Providing contraceptive services. Ending sexual violence. Admitting to the existence of marital rape.

Improving women’s economic status and power. Ending the stigma associated with single motherhood. Ensuring both women and men share responsibility for reproduction.

Would that the churches put as much effort into all of these fronts as they have into untruthful hysteria about the proposed Constitution’s provisions on termination of pregnancy.

Just like the Muslims, who have maintained an honourable and studious silence in the face of the absolutely extraordinary attack on their judicial and political intentions, the women’s movement has not responded — except to try, patiently, to bring evidence and facts to bear.

The women’s movement has accepted the dubious language on reproductive and sexual rights conceded to the Christian religious right in the proposed Constitution. And is trying to move forward.

Not so the evangelical and mainstream Christian churches. The concessions made are not enough. And they have seized on the concessions made not with any grace, but to insist on further changes, through a process all their own and entirely outside of that set up by law.

I am absolutely perplexed by how institutions once at the fore of the movement for democracy, human rights and rule of law have sunk so low.

L. Muthoni Wanyeki is executive director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission